The Purpose of an Easy Running Day (and why you need more of them)
Do you have built in recovery days as part of your training? If so, how good are you at making sure you use that easy running day to actually run slow?
I struggle with taking easy running days. After a warm up, I naturally want to go faster and push my pace. For too long, my mentality has been that if I go hard, even on days that aren’t designed to be hard, I’ll get faster. That’s not exactly how it works.
Easy running days may seem pointless to you. Why plod along at a pace that’s so much slower than anything you’d use in a race? If you are new to running, you may not even know (yet) what your easy / non-easy paces are.
The Purpose of an Easy Running Day
Jack Daniels, one of the Godfathers of distance running, explains in Daniels’ Running Formula, that some of the benefits of easy days are building a degree of resistance to injury, developing your heart muscle and increasing vascularization.
By running easy, you’re able to run more, but with less stress on your body. This is critical to helping you build up the skeletal and muscular systems necessary to sustain your race distance. By running at an easy pace most of the time, you can hopefully avoid many common running injuries.
This also helps strengthen your heart since the “maximum force of each stroke of the heart is reached when the heart rate is at about 60 percent of maximum (Daniels, p. 48).” Even when running easy, your heart does an awesome job of pumping blood and oxygen to the muscles you’re using. Those muscles in turn, respond by “making changes in the muscle fibers that allow the muscles to accept more oxygen and convert more fuel into energy…”
By not taking an easy running day, you’re basically shortchanging your training efforts. Daniels suggests that most of your runs should be easy.
The Importance of Easy Days
I asked Jeff Gaudette from Runner’s Connect about his advice on making hard days hard and easy days easy. He said,
Hard training is only as good as the recovery you can give yourself between workouts. To benefit from a workout, you must first recover from it and absorb it. By keeping your hard days hard and easy days easy, you maximize the workload on hard days and take full advantage of the recovery on easy days. You’ll be able to work harder and recover faster.
My own coach, Antonio Vega, often reminds me to keep my non-workout runs at an easy, moderate pace to achieve the desired training effect, mainly, allowing those adaptations take take effect.
The Psychological Benefits of Easy Running Days
I have also found a psychological benefit from regular easy days. If you struggle to summon the motivation to get out the door for your run, give yourself a mental break by segmenting your week into hard days and easy days.
Knowing that I only have to truly work hard 2 or 3 days a week, lets me treat those other days as “active-off-days”. Having to get in an 8 mile easy run, I simply say, “all you gotta do is get out the door and it doesn’t matter how long it takes you.”
Inevitably, once I get a few miles into it, I forget how much I was dreading it and am able to have a nice, easy run. I have a different attitude on these days. A bit more relaxed and a lot slower.
This, in turn, allows me to go all out on a hard day. I treat them like mini races. I make sure to eat well the day before, sleep well and mentally shift to knowing I’m going to need an all out effort.
How to Structure an Easy Day
Just run slower… it’s that easy. But how slow? Here are two suggestions about how to structure your easy running day.
1. Calculate your Pace.
The VDOT calculator by the Run SMART project can calculate your easy run pace, as well as several other desired paces. Ideally you would do this using a heart rate monitor… something I’m just beginning to experiment with (look for a post on that in a few months).
2. Follow this plan…
Coach Jay Johnson offers this suggestion about how you should structure your easy days. He says easy running is a are great time to get in extra strength work. If your easy run is normally 60 minutes, he suggests the following.
- 5 min: Lunge matrix and leg swings.
- 5 – 30 min: Easy running. When in doubt, run slower than you think you should.
- 30 – 43 min: Continue easy running, and now do strides as part of the run.
- 43 – 53 min: Do the assigned GSM as outlined on the Eight Week General Strength progression.
- 53 – 60 min: 7 minute “Quick Release” routine.
By breaking your training week up into an easy/hard mentality, you minimize the stress you put on yourself both mentally and physically.
Enjoy your next Easy Running Day
On your next easy, non-workout day, take it very easy. Go a little slower than normal. Stop and watch the sun rise (or set) and relax, knowing that the purpose of this run is just as important as the workout you have the next day. All of them build to achieving your audacious running goals.